NEW YORK -- Australia and New Zealand shared first place, and the United States tied for fifth, in a first-of-its kind survey ranking 153 nations on the willingness of their citizens to donate time and money to charity.
China ranked near the bottom, barely higher than last-place Madagascar.
The report, released Wednesday by the British-based Charities Aid Foundation, showed striking variations in charitable behavior around the world.
For example, it found that only 4 percent of Lithuanians gave money to charity, compared with 83 percent of people in Malta; 61 percent of people in Turkmenistan did volunteer work, compared with 2 percent of Cambodians.
The overall rankings were a composite of three categories - the percentage of people who donated money, donated time and helped a stranger in the month prior to being surveyed.
Australia may be better known for its rugged outback and the Great Barrier Reef, but the country also boasts the most generous people in the world. Sixty-four percent of Aussies have helped a stranger in the last month.
Australia's southern neighbor, New Zealand, snags the second spot on the list. An impressive 68 percent of New Zealanders give to charity. Residents' giving spirit will no doubt aid communities recovering from the recent Christchurch earthquake.
Across Ireland, there are 24,000 volunteer organizations. According to the World Giving Index, 35 percent of the Irish population have volunteered their time to support these local organizations in the last month alone.
Hailing from a country where 64 percent of the population made a charitable donation in the last month, one of Canada's most famous philanthropists is Jeffrey Skoll. After making a fortune founding eBay, Skoll went on to found the socially conscious film company Participant Media and encourage social entrepreneurship through the Skoll Foundation.
As one of the most socially progressive countries in the world, Switzerland prides itself on its charitable contributions and over two-thirds of households give regularly -- four times that of the French or Germans.
Just over half of all Americans are giving money to charities, but only 39 percent of people have volunteered for an organization in the last month. Most of those volunteers -- 76 percent -- were over 50.
The Netherlands ranks number one in giving money to charities, with 77 percent of the population doing so. Even their national hockey team is taking action; the team will play in a charity match to benefit Pakistan's flood victims on September 14.
While a top giver when it comes to donating money to charity, only 28 percent of the United Kingdom's population has volunteered for an organization in the last month, far less than than people in several of its former colonies.
Though the island nation of Sri Lanka has been devastated by the 2004 Asian Tsunami and subsequent civil war, half of its citizens donate money or volunteer regularly. That's a hefty commitment from a country with an average per capita income of $4,500 and almost a third of residents are below the poverty line.
Nearly 70 percent of Austrians give part of their paycheck away to charity. One of the country's biggest benefactors this year is Austrian millionaire Karl Rabeder, who gave away his entire $4.7 million fortune last February after deciding it "prevents happiness".
Rounding out the top most charitable countries is the landlocked Southeast Asian country of Laos. Though private enterprises are now encouraged, the country has been officially communist since 1975, which may account for some of the national inclination to share the wealth. Many people in the majority Buddhist country also participate in the daily tradition of giving monks alms.
Australia and New Zealand topped the index with an average score of 57 percent, trailed by Canada and Ireland at 56 percent, and the United States and Switzerland at 55 percent.
Several of the world's most populous countries were near the bottom of the index - including India in 134th place, Russia in 138th and China in 147th. Only 4 percent of Chinese people donate their time to charity, and only 6 percent of Russians donate money, according to the survey.
In the West African nation of Liberia, only 8 percent of the population give money to charity every month, yet 76 percent regularly help a stranger - more than any other country.
Overall, among all those surveyed worldwide, 20 percent volunteered time in the month prior to being interviewed, 30 percent donated money, and 45 percent helped a stranger. For the U.S., the figures were 60 percent donating money, 39 percent volunteering time and 65 percent helping a stranger.
"Many countries at the bottom of the list benefit enormously from U.S. philanthropy," said Susan Saxon-Harrold, CEO of Charities Aid foundation America. "It's important that Americans continue to build up indigenous philanthropy in countries such as China, Russia and India."
The report was based primarily on data from Gallup's WorldView World Poll, an ongoing research project carried out in 153 countries accounting for 95 percent of the world's population.
In most countries surveyed, 1,000 questionnaires were completed - in telephone and face-to-face interviews - by a representative sample of individuals living in urban centers. Margins of error ranged from plus or minus 5.3 percentage points in Lithuania to plus or minus 2.6 percentage points in India.